April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions surrounding sexual assault. These myths only minimize the impact after experiencing a sexual assault, blame and shame survivors, excuse the behavior of perpetrators and perpetuate rape culture. Let’s talk about some of these myths and the truths behind them to break down some of the stigma and misunderstanding around sexual assault.
Myth: Sexual assault isn’t all that common.
Truth: Sexual assault is very common. About 48% of women and 23% of men in the U.S. have experienced unwanted sexual contact in their lifetime. (1)
Myth: Many people falsely accuse people of sexual assault.
Truth: The false reporting rate is 2-10%, the same as any other crime. (2)
Myth: Most people are victimized by strangers.
Truth: Only about 19.5% of sexual assaults are committed by strangers of the victim. The rest are committed by someone the victim knows. In child sexual abuse cases, 93% know the perpetrator. (3)
Myth: Men can’t be sexually assaulted.
Truth: Roughly 25% of U.S. men have experienced some sort of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. (4)
Myth: If someone doesn’t report it to the police, it must not have happened.
Truth: Sexual assault is an underreported crime, with nearly 80% of assaults going unreported in the U.S. (5) There are many reasons why someone may not want to report. They may fear not being believed or being blamed for the assault, they may know their perpetrator and want to protect them, they may not trust law enforcement, they may fear retaliation or they may not have processed what happened to them until years later. Just because someone chooses not to report a sexual assault doesn’t mean that an assault didn’t take place.
Myth: Wearing revealing clothing, acting provocatively and getting heavily intoxicated is just asking to be sexually assaulted.
Truth: How someone is dressed or how much they have had to drink are not to blame for being sexually assaulted – the perpetrator is to blame.
Myth: Sexual assault is a result of lust and passion.
Truth: Sexual assault is motivated by power and control, not by sexual pleasure. (6)
Myth: You can’t sexually assault someone that you’ve previously had willing and consensual sex with.
Truth: You can sexually assault someone that you’ve had a previous consensual sexual relationship with. Past sexual relations do not entitle you to future ones.
Myth: It is not sexual assault if it is with your partner/spouse.
Truth: Romantic partners and spouses have the right to decline sexual advances and withhold consent from anyone – including their partner. Sexual activity without consent is sexual assault. As of 1990, it is a felony offense in Kentucky to rape your spouse. (7)
Myth: If someone doesn’t fight back they must have wanted it or not thought it was that bad.
Truth: When experiencing trauma, our brains and bodies go into fight, flight or freeze mode. Many survivors may have experienced a freeze response where they cannot fight back or even speak sometimes. (8)
Myth: They didn’t explicitly say “no”, so it is not sexual assault.
Truth: Continual affirmative consent is needed during sexual encounters. An “I don’t know,” “not right now,” “I don’t feel like it,” “maybe” or silence is not affirmative consent. Additionally, if someone is heavily intoxicated, asleep or incapacitated in any way, they may not be able to say “no.” This is still sexual assault.
If you have experienced sexual assault, UofL Health – UofL Hospital – SAFE Services can connect you with much-needed resources, including medical/forensic exams, law enforcement and advocates. You can reach the SAFE Services office at 502-562-4064.
If you are in crisis, call the office’s 24-hour crisis line at 844-BE-SAFE (844-237-2331). If you have life-threatening injuries, call 911 immediately.